Rebecca L. Davis is the Miller Family Endowed Early Career Professor of History at the University of Delaware, with a joint appointment in the Department of Women and Gender Studies. She is the author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss (2010), a history of how marriage counseling shaped twentieth-century American religion, social science, and gender politics. Her latest book is Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions that Changed American Politics (2021) which considers how the controversial religious conversions of Clare Boothe Luce, Whittaker Chambers, Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Chuck Colson, among others, shaped ideas about authenticity and democracy. Davis is also the co-editor with Michele Mitchell of Heterosexual Histories (2021). Her current book project is Sex in America (Liveright). Davis serves as a producer and the story editor for the Sexing History podcast. A former postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, she was a visiting fellow there during the 2016–2017 academic year.
When the Supreme Court announced its decision in the Obergefell decision in 2015, it seemed that the United States would put its debates over marriage equality behind it, moving all 50 states toward a legal definition of marriage that included same-sex couples. Yet almost immediately, the religious defenders of "traditional marriage" challenged the implementation of the decision, and the current administration has looked for ways to undermine it. Why has marriage become the focus of religious activism in the United States? This lecture explores the history of the American investment in marriage and offers suggestions about why marriage remains a rallying cry for the Christian right.